New Delhi: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance is to launch its ambitious initiative for the development of industrially backward districts across the country in Orissa on Monday, minister of state for industry Ashwani Kumar said.
“This is the foremost priority of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” Kumar said. “The idea is to promote industrial development and employment generation in the most backward districts of the country. This new model of development is a national agenda to create blue-collar workers in the hinterlands, where agriculture has reached saturation levels.”
The government’s strategy is important given that it isseeking to return to power in the next general election, less than a year away, on the plank of inclusive growth, aftermillions of Indians continue to complain that nearly a decade of reforms and economic growth has benefited only a few.
Forging ahead: If a state were to identify the lack of a railway line as an impediment to industrial development in a particular district, the Centre would direct the ministry of railways to tackle the issue. (Photo: Rajeev Dabral / Mint)
With the Centre struggling to contain inflation, or the rising cost of goods, which hits the poor the hardest, the Congress has been seeking to woo its traditional voters among the marginalized sections of society through initiatives such as a Rs60,000 crore farmer debt relief package and the speedy implementation of reservations for candidates of other backward classes in Centrally funded educational institutions.
So, if a state were to identify the lack of a railway line as an impediment to industrial development in a particular district, for instance, the minister said the Centre would direct the ministry of railways to help overcome that issue.
Similarly, if a power plant were to be identified as a pre-requisite to attracting private industry in another district, the department of industrial policy and promotion, headed by Kumar, would work with the ministry of power to get utilities up and running on a priority.
Even as Kumar has been working on this plan since 2006, the districts are yet to be finalized. The minister said while his ministry had tentatively identified 55 districts, he was open to suggestions from the states. He said he had dropped the idea of conducting another study as it would delay the project further.
So his ministry relied on the 2005 study conducted by the Planning Commission, which had identified 170 industrially backward districts, and an earlier study done in 1997, by the department of revenue, which had identified 123 districts.
Besides that, the ministry had for its perusal a list of 67 districts with at least 40% population of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, and another list of 90 districts with a concentration of minorities.
Beginning with Orissa, ruled by the Biju Janata Dal and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Kumar plans to interact with governments of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, states beset by Left-wing extremism, or Naxalism, which prevents industrial development and feeds on the lack of it. “That’s all the more reason for focusing on these states,” Kumar said.
The opposition, however, is not impressed. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a vice-president of the BJP, said any plan initiated at such a late stage in any government’s term could only be politically motivated.
“In a way, it is an admission on part of the Congress that its existing schemes designed to generate employment, such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, have failed. This is an even more far-fetched plan.”